By MADHURA NADARAJAH
According to Merriam-Webster, the term social media describes any medium of technology that allows an online community of people to share ideas, interests and knowledge. With almost 190 million users, social media has seen its fair share of proclamation and criticism. Let’s take a look at the mid-2000s first. This was a golden time where MySpace was starting its gradual descend, Facebook was rapidly growing and people were still trying grasp the idea of five hundred character “tweets.” At this time, many users praised social media for introducing them to new people or, on the other side of the spectrum, reuniting them with old friends. But with every Yin there is a Yang; for social media, that darkness came from what is known as charity fads.
What are social media charity fads and how exactly do they affect society? Currently there are a plethora of social media applications, from the still-popular Facebook and Twitter to the relatively-new Snapchat and Instagram. While there are many conversations being held about social media, users can all agree that social media is a double-edged sword. A portion of users and non-users see social media as spreading the word and their opinions on “hot” topics. On the other hand, another portion of users and non-users perceive social media as providing a façade of knowledge on these hot topics. Then, there’s a group of people (myself included) who hold ambivalent feelings about social media. From my own experience, social media provided me with direct access to see where my friends or followers — depending on the application — stood on trending topics. However, it also brought to light that many users of social media were not fully educated on the topic at hand that they were discussing; in fact, it became apparent that a majority of them only derived their knowledge from social media, and not any thorough research or inquiries.
The question about the value of social media resurfaced again when individuals and organizations started to utilize social media (to be more specific, Facebook and Twitter) to raise awareness, support and money for various charities. In fact, senior UT student Jadira Scott believes that “social media’s role in charity is great [because] it brings a lot of awareness to that cause and it is nice to see people from all over the world come together to support the cause.”
Typically, in order to be considered a “successful” social media hit, the concept must be trending in order to go viral. Moreover, these concepts are either brought upon voluntarily or as a reaction to an event. The problem with social media, though, is that these viral concepts are almost always just fads. While the attention brought by these concepts are great, they soon become pushed to aside simultaneously as another topic, concept, trend — whatever you want to call it— is brought to the forefront. It begs the question of honesty behind social media users.
Remember the reactionary hashtag #Flintwatercrisis? It can easily be described as one of those fads. Once word had spread about what was happening in Flint, many people took to Twitter and Facebook to proclaim their anger and sadness about the situation. While money and water donations were raised during the height of the crisis, it seemed that within a couple of weeks the fervor behind the hashtag was lost. Now it’s easy to blame the lack of longevity of #Flintwatercrisis on political red tape that the commonfolk cannot eradicate themselves. However, throughout history, the commonfolk have repeatedly changed society through mass and ambition. Thus, it begs the question, are social media users really passionate about raising awareness and helping the move to remedy the Flint Water Crisis? Or are these social media users just more victims of passive participation, in which they believe they are making a difference by simply tweeting solemn words about the calamity with the hashtag #Flintwatercrisis?
While passive participation is increasing on social media, and arguably not for the better, there are benefits to certain social media fads. For instance, remember the Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Ice Bucket Challenge? This was a voluntarily composed trend in which individuals would throw a bucket of iced cold water on their body, so they can have a glimpse of understanding of what ALS feels like. The outcome of the challenge was that it not only raised awareness, but that it also raised a whopping hundred and fifteen million dollars since 2014.
As evidenced by these two examples alone there are pros and cons of social media when it comes to raising awareness about charities. Therefore, I urge you all for a call to change. That change is that when you learn about a voluntarily or reactionary trend on social media, and you wish to discuss it online or even take part in the cause, please do not treat it as a fad; instead see it as opportunity to do something more than just talk about it on social media. With that said, it is understandable that due to the myriad causes and movements in the world, it is exhausting (and possibly expensive) to continuously support every single one. Instead, I suggest that individuals do two things. One is that when they see a topic or hashtag trending on social media, do not just gather information from social media alone. Rather, read about it from verifiable sources before you decide to post something about it online. The second request is to neither forget nor stop the discussion. Because when that happens, that is when a trend becomes a fad it perpetuates this cycle of misery.
Madhura Nadarajah can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org